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The Lisbon Treaty Failure: Getting back to Basic Frames

by nanne Wed Jun 25th, 2008 at 01:22:06 PM EST

There is a lot of interesting discussion in the European blogosphere about issues related to the Irish referendum. Like the list of demands of Sinn Féin. Like the speculation about funding of Libertas by the American defence establishment. The latter is typical 'undernews' that is, for now, being ignored by the mainstream media.

But let's not lose sight of the big picture.

The Lisbon Treaty did not fail the Irish referendum due to evil American defence corporations, rich Irish corporate hacks, or because it had some elements that irked a small post-marxist Irish party. It failed because it failed to take into account basic emotional responses that any European electorate would have had. If put to a referendum, it would fail in the vast majority of European Union Member States.

(based upon this post over on my blog)


The key item to understand is something I noticed-slash-learned of quite a long time ago. I wrote about it in reaction to a proposal by Andrew Duff, a LibDem MEP who means well but is too starry-eyed about the EU, to save the dead 'Constitution' by rewriting the policy part and then trying to get it through again. I wrote:

DJ Nozem: EU Plans Galore!


My opinion is that Andrew Duff's plans are - in every single aspect - undesirable and unrealistic. The dynamic of a second round of referendums will be the same. People will be confronted with a European Union they neither think a lot, know a lot, or care a lot about. These people will see a document that is confusing but threatens (already by its name) to increase the powers and importance of this entity, will be alarmed and will vote it down. You need to go to the voters with something they can understand after minimal effort. The 'Constitution' is only comprehensible to those who understand EU law and spent many hours reading it.

This applies - mutatis mutandis - in full force to the Lisbon Treaty. Its name was slightly better, although I believe that retaining 'Reform Treaty' would have been more effective. Its contents, however, were even more obscure than those of the 'Constitution'.

The failure of Lisbon is due to the lack of a coherent narrative, the normal baseline of public perception of the EU (low saliency, just another regulator), the obscurity of the treaty. This logically leads to ignorance and a scare reaction - and those logically lead to a 'no' vote.

How is the EU actually perceived, by people who are not regularly engaging with it? There is little research on that - that I know of. The research that I have seen indicates that they normally perceive the EU as having the significance of a national regulatory body. On the contrary, most pro-EU people think that it is destined to be a major superpower, and the face of future global governance that will deliver peace and prosperity to all.

It's time for those people to start thinking more about the present.

The gap between how the vast 'silent majority' perceives the European Union and how the majority of those inundated with EU politics perceive it and think it is perceived is immeasurable. The latter are living in a fantasy of what could ideally be. By now, that bubble should have burst.

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In a bit of a cranky mood. Tell me what you think.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Jun 25th, 2008 at 01:23:24 PM EST
When the population doesn't trust their own government you have a serious problem.

Because generally by the time people get asked to vote yes or no in a referendum on any treaty, they have to trust that the politicians have done their best job. Isn't that the point of representative democracy? If that trust is missing, people will not agree.

I was thinking about the Spanish Constitution of 1978 - there was a constitutional assembly elected, a committee of 7 wise men was selected among them to draft a document, the document was debated, amended and approved, and then it was submitted to referendum. In the referendum people are still asked to vote on a complex document where - if they bothered to read it in full - they might not agree with every single article. So people have to trust their representatives and their political parties. In Ireland we have the situation where political parties representing 90% of the parliament cannot get more than 45% of the vote for a treaty they support... An example of trusting political leaders above people's best judgement is how PM Felipe Gonzalez got the socialist voters to vote for NATO membership in 1986, which was a U-turn for the party leadership including Gonzalez. That's an amazing example of trust in the political class.

People call this a crisis of democracy. When "serious" people say that they mean that the population doesn't vote "the right way". What it really means is that people don't trust their elected representatives farther than they can throw them.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 25th, 2008 at 02:37:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Amazing, isn't it, that the Irish government waited until after the vote to tell us that the country was going into a recession and there will be cut-backs? Of course, we can truly trust them to do things in our best interest. Wonder how much help the farmers and fishermen will get now. Look out, England, here we come again looking for jobs. Got any?

Marie
by marie on Wed Jun 25th, 2008 at 03:50:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the EU Institutions should be structured around several key fields where it is clear that National action can not solve. For example Energy security and Financial regulations and a few more similar things. These should be governed on the EU level everything stays with the member states such that subsidiarity isn't just buzz word but really the principle of the EU.

These key fields would provide the narative necessary to make people to understand the EU, and with a strong emphasis on subsidiarity peoplpe will also see that there are clear limits to the powers of the EU.

What I oppose are these talks about more pan-European democracy. For the time being people only the Nation as legitimate, Clearly the parliament should have more power, but all this talk about an directly elected president is complete nonsense.  

by rz on Wed Jun 25th, 2008 at 02:38:06 PM EST
I don't think the Lisbon Treaty is a bad treaty, but the way the national governments tried to ram it through is off-putting, and the way the public debate on the "Constitution" was muzzled in the run-up to the Spanish referendum really pissed me off.

The only thing I agree with Jerome about regarding these treaties is that they are not being defeated on the content, but on the procedure.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 25th, 2008 at 04:34:13 PM EST
When nobody can read the content because it is rendered in the form of "in article x, paragraph y is altered in this sense... throughout article z, word v is replaced by w" -- what do you expect?

The current setting is an atomised society where trust in the political establishment is lost, along with most connections between the political process and the public. So, you can no longer rely on what used to work.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Jun 25th, 2008 at 04:50:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, as you know they did that on purpose and took until last month to publish a consolidated version. You really can't fault people for wanting to give these bozos a black eye at every opportunity (be it in France, the Netherlands or Ireland). The only reason Spain approved it (with 45% participation!) is that we have hungups about being properly European.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 25th, 2008 at 04:56:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
an atomised society where trust in the political establishment is lost, along with most connections between the political process and the public

That doesn't seem like a sound base to tackle peak oil, climate change, or any other crises we might have to face in the next few years.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 25th, 2008 at 05:05:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's because it isn't.

[Insert doom macro of choice here.]

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Jun 25th, 2008 at 06:45:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
[Europe.Is.Doomed™ Alert]

[ThatBritGuy's Crystal Ball of Doom™ Technology]

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 26th, 2008 at 02:44:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
and I think there's a lot more that we agree on.

Where we might disagree is that I think that a "yes" vote would have been a way more effective repudiation of the current crop of politicians than the "no" ever will be.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Jun 25th, 2008 at 05:12:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How can it be a repudiation to give them what they want?

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 25th, 2008 at 05:18:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, that's the dilemma. In reality a 'yes' vote would have meant a move - not a diminution - of political power from state governments towards Brussels. It wouldn't have been much of a move, but it would have emphasised the narrative that being European is more important than being - say - Irish.

I think what's being missed is that neither Brussels nor state politicians are seen as representative. The crisis of democracy is Euro-wide - and with good reason, because policy isn't being set by voters or by electorates, but by special interest groups, sub-cliques, elites and paid lobbyists.

Ordinary voters have been deliberately excluded from this process, and most government, in the EU and in nation states, is more interested in talking than listening. Even when someone like Wallstrom puts together one of her famous surveys, she won't be asking the questions that people are really asking themselves - which is why the hell anyone should bother voting when the same old crap gets rolled out cycle after cycle, and no alternative is available.

So the Irish vote is as much about the state of democracy in general as it is about the EU. If the EU wants a treaty that populations will support, it needs to find a way to present itself as a democratic and populist alternative.

Which is not, perhaps, a likely prospect.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Jun 25th, 2008 at 06:44:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Are you telling Walström that?

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 26th, 2008 at 02:44:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I exaggerate about the disagreement.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 25th, 2008 at 05:20:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As I understand it the various EU treaties are not intended to create a United States of Europe. But perhaps some learnings could be found by looking at what it took to get the U.S. constitution ratified.

For one thing, there was an identified "other" (Britain) that had just recently been fought in an expensive and exhausting war. Europe doesn't currently have such a generally understood competitor, so perhaps the urgency of "doing something" is not so urgent.

Even with that in place, in America there was a lot of opposition to collecting the colonies into a single country. A lot of manipulation was required to get the constitution ratified, and it wasn't put to a popular vote. Even then, it was a close call in most states.

Also, the U.S. constitution is a general statement of principles, with a clear intellectual base. It sets up a system founded on certain axioms, but leaves the vast majority of the details to be worked out later. The E.U. treaties are treaties, not statements of principle.

Perhaps the recent failures of the treaty votes will trigger a reconsideration of whether the current E.U. setup is really viable. Do they re-open the question of whether there SHOULD be a U.S.E.?

by asdf on Thu Jun 26th, 2008 at 09:11:33 AM EST
asdf:
Even with that in place, in America there was a lot of opposition to collecting the colonies into a single country. A lot of manipulation was required to get the constitution ratified, and it wasn't put to a popular vote. Even then, it was a close call in most states.
Thank you for pointing this out: I get really irritated every time people suggest the EU's problems would all go away if only we imitated the US Constitution.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 26th, 2008 at 09:24:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How about Venezuela? Their 350-point constitition was approved by over 70% of the electorate. Does any other constitution have something like article 27, especially
El ejercicio de este derecho no puede ser afectado, en modo alguno, por la declaración del estado de excepción o de la restricción de garantías constitucionales.
Can somebody who knows Spanish confirm that this explicitly guarantees habeas corpus rights, even in the case of a national emergency?
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Fri Jun 27th, 2008 at 05:15:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It says, "The exercise of this right cannot be affected in any way by the declaration of a state of emergency or the restriction of constitutional guarantees."
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Fri Jun 27th, 2008 at 05:30:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
yes, that is correct.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jun 27th, 2008 at 05:34:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, there's the Spanish Constitution of 1978
Section 17
  1. Every person has the right to freedom and security. No one may be deprived of his or her freedom except in accordance with the provisions of this section and in the cases and in the manner provided for by the law.
  2. Preventive arrest may last no longer than the time strictly necessary in order to carry out the investigations aimed at establishing the events; in any case the person arrested must be set free or handed over to the judicial authorities within a maximum period of seventy-two hours.
  3. Every person arrested must be informed immediately, and in a way understandable to him or her, of his or her rights and of the grounds for his or her arrest, and may not be compelled to make a statement. The arrested person shall be guaranteed the assistance of a lawyer during police and judicial proceedings, under the terms to be laid down by the law.
  4. An habeas corpus procedure shall be provided for by law in order to ensure the immediate handing over to the judicial authorities of any person illegally arrested. Likewise, the maximum period of provisional imprisonment shall be determined by law.
Subsection 3 is protected except in a "state of siege" (meaning, state of war) - that is, no detention without charge, right to remain silent, and right to legal counsel:
Section 55
  1. The rights recognized in sections 17 and 18, subsections 2 and 3, sections 19 and 20, subsection 1, paragraphs a) and d), and subsection 5; sections 21 and 28, subsection 2, and section 37, subsection 2, may be suspended when a state of emergency or siege (martial law) is declared under the terms provided in the Constitution. Subsection 3 of section 17 is excepted from the foregoing provisions in the event of the declaration of a state of emergency.
  2. An organic act may determine the manner and the circumstances in which, on an individual basis and with the necessary participation of the courts and proper parliamentary control, the rights recognized in section 17, subsection 2, and 18, subsections 2 and 3, may be suspended for specific persons in connection with investigations of the activities of armed bands or terrorist groups.
  3. Unwarranted or abusive use of the powers recognized in the foregoing organic act shall give rise to criminal liability as a violation of the rights and freedoms recognized by the laws.


When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jun 27th, 2008 at 05:45:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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